Malcom Gladwell in his book Blink had illustrated our “Power of Thinking Without Thinking”. Well, new research seems to confirm the idea that gut instincts regarding areas in which we have expertise may be worthy of more attention. This study was led by Erik Dane and his team of researchers at Rice University, George Mason University and Boston College and was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
“How expert someone is within a particular domain has a positive impact on their ability to make an accurate gut decision,” he says. However, he added, “Even if you’re an expert, intuitive decision-making is better for some types of tasks than others. Tasks that can be solved through predetermined steps, like maths problems, are not as conducive to intuitive decision-making as less-structured tasks, which may include certain strategic or human resource management problems.”
“Although there’s been a lot of research on the concept of intuition, there’s relatively little research directly comparing whether it’s best to ‘trust your gut’ versus taking time to make a decision,” said Dane, assistant professor of management at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business.
Hence the team conducted two studies, one in which participants rated the difficulty of basketball shots and one in which participants judged whether designer handbags were real or fake.
In the ‘basketball difficulty rating’ study, they found that, indeed, intuition those with high expertise were more accurate in their intutive skills. Individuals having played competitive basketball for three years in high school performed better in the intutition task. In contrast, among those who tried to complete the task through analysis rather than intuition, expertise did not play much of a role.
Again in the ‘spot the fake handbag’ study, the team found that those who owned more than 3 handbags were able to spot the fake within 5 seconds without even touching it. The experts obviously guessed better than the non-experts. Those who analysed the bags, managed an average performance irrespective of their expertise.
What’s interesting is that across both studies, those who possessed expertise performed—on average—just as well intuitively as analytically. In addition, experts outperformed novices much more when making their decisions intuitively but not when making their decisions analytically.
Dane and his co-authors hope the research will help us understand when we should trust our gut instinct to make decisions.